“How do you adequately thank someone for saving your child?” – Courtney, mother of Sully
When Courtney and Rob learned they were having a baby, they were over the moon. Sully was born on Nov. 14, 2011 in Courtney’s hometown of Duluth. For about 24 hours, they were a happy, carefree family.
However, shortly after he was born Sully's oxygen levels measured low. At two days old, he was given an echocardiogram, and Courtney got a call from her doctor.
“Courtney, the Life Flight team from Children’s Hospitals is on the way. They’ll be there in about five minutes,” her doctor told her. “I think Sully has something wrong with his heart and is going to need surgery.”
With his parents reeling, an ambulance took Sully to the Duluth International Airport, and he was flown to the Twin Cities and brought to Children’s Hospitals. Courtney and Rob followed in their car, arriving to the Metro area just in time for morning rush hour.
“When we arrived, I burst into Children’s and said to the person at the front desk: ‘Hi. My name is Courtney. I’m from Duluth. You have my baby.’”
Two days after he was born—when most parents are doting on their newborn’s tiny fingers and toes—Sully was diagnosed with Pulmonary Atresia with Tetralogy of Fallot. In other words: he had a congenital heart defect (CHD). He was scheduled for heart surgery the next day.
“Not only was this a major surgery, but because the doctors needed to stop his heart, they had to put Sully on a heart-lung bypass machine,” Courtney said. “However, newborn babies don’t have enough blood to be put on a bypass machine. Because of that, Sully needed blood and blood products to be able to handle the surgery.”
Thanks to a team of skilled doctors, volunteer blood donors in the community, and two very motivated parents, Sully underwent a full sternotomy when he was just three days old.
Sully came out of his heart surgery strong and healthy, and recovered quickly—he went home a full week ahead of schedule. He was scheduled for a second heart surgery six months later to receive a human heart valve to replace the one he missed out on at birth. Again—he recovered so quickly, he got to go home early.
“Ever since Sully was born, we started noticing how prevalent CHD is,” Courtney said. “It’s the number one birth defect in the world. But people should know that CHD isn’t a death sentence anymore.”
Courtney quickly became an expert on CHD and an advocate for giving blood. “I think it’s important for people to realize that in about an hour of donating blood, you’re the reason someone gets to graduate high school. You’re the reason someone is walking down the aisle. You took one hour, and someone gets their dad back. You don’t understand the need until you’re facing it.”
Courtney is grateful every day for the time she has with Sully. “How do you adequately thank someone for saving your child? Thank you for giving me back my best friend. Thank you for taking time out of your lunch break to donate blood. I hope you know how deeply and truly we love and appreciate you.”